A £388m winter funding boost for adult social care announced yesterday by the government is “too little too late”, a provider body has warned.
Third sector umbrella organisation the National Care Forum made the criticism after the Department of Health and Social Care unveiled the package the day before it came into force.
Running until March 2022, most of the coronavirus-focused funding is a continuation of the ring-fenced infection control and testing fund, comprising £237m for infection control measures and £126.3 to fund regular lateral flow testing for care staff and similar tests for care home visitors.
As with previous iterations of the fund, most of this will be directed at care homes, including to help providers pay staff required to self-isolate their full wage and follow guidance on minimising movement of workers between homes.
There is also £25m to help care workers get Covid-19 or flu vaccines. The DHSC also confirmed it would extend care providers’ access to free personal protective equipment (PPE) until March 2022, while also saying it would consult on extending it beyond this point.
Last-minute funding announcements
NCV chief executive Vic Rayner said: “At the eleventh hour, the government has finally announced an extension to the funding for adult social care to support the delivery of care services in a Covid-safe environment.
“The existing funding came to an end on 30 September, the very same day that the government announced the extension. How it expects providers of care to plan and sustain services with the last-minute nature of this extension is a mystery.”
She also pointed out that the funding was worth less than that provided in April and July of this year, when the sector was given £341m and £251m respectively for successive three-month periods, compared with £388m over six months now.
‘Costs have not changed for providers’
Despite the reductions, Rayner said that “for care services, nothing has changed in terms of the areas that the fund is intended to support”.
She added: “The testing regime remains, the strictures around visiting are still in place, there are extra conditions around vaccination ongoing with more on the horizon, isolation for staff working with clinically vulnerable people is still required and infection control measures including the restriction of staff movement remain a firm requirement.”
Rayner said this was on top of the £100m one-off cost that care home providers were facing as a result of the government’s policy of mandating their staff to be Covid vaccinated, which is due to come into force on 11 November.
Alongside yesterday’s announcement, the DHSC said that care home staff could now apply for a medical exemption from vaccination, by calling 119, after which they will be sent an applicaiton form. This will be open to those with certain medical conditions or allergies or who had had an adverse reaction to their first dose.
On 15 September, it had announced a temporary self-certification scheme to enable care home staff to get a 12-week exemption from vaccination.
Rayner added: “This will mean that going forward, no one will be able to self-certify, and anyone who has done so to date will only have a 12 week period to either have their exemption confirmed, or to receive both doses of the vaccine in order to be able to be deployed within a care home.
‘Winter pressures will be greater’
“Twelve weeks takes us to 23 December, right in the middle of winter pressures which will be even greater this year because of the current workforce crisis. Whilst the certainty around exemptions is welcome, we continue to call for a delay to the implementation of mandatory vaccination scheme within care homes until the wider consultation across health and care has concluded.”
The DHSC also announced the extention of the designated settings scheme, enabling certain care homes to accept people discharged from hospital with a positive Covid test, as well as the accompanying indemnity scheme to provide insurance cover for accepting potentially infectious residents.
Rayner was also critical of this, adding: “Leaving the announcement to confirm the extension of these schemes until the night before both the funding and insurance runs out makes a mockery of the notion of a strategic, thought-through approach to ensuring that people receive the services they need in localities across the country.”